Who's Afraid of a Mouse?

by John C. Reiger

A (mostly) true story about some of the unusual characters one meets at a craft show.

BAM! BLAM!! Loud Noise.

Danger, danger! Loud noise! Got to get away. Unsafe here. Run! Run!

Bright light. Too bright. Not safe! Where to go? Which way to run? Run that way. Run, run. No, no, over there instead. Yes, over there it's darker, safer. Over there are places to hide. Run, run. Pant, pant! Made it. Safe now. Whew!.

Still too much light. Gotta move back. Good, here is a little crevice. Squeeze in. Pant, pant. No immediate danger now. Better stay alert, but try to rest. Listen! Watch! Listen! Sniff! Listen!

Seems OK. Now hide here and calm down before exploring this new place. Still kind of noisy, but the noise is not real close. Rest now, but be alert. Yes, everything is still OK. Rest, relax. Heart not pumping so fast now. Safe for awhile!

"Mouse! A mouse ran in there."

"Huh," I muttered, coming up to realtime.

"A mouse ran under your booth."

"What? A mouse?" I was still wrapped up in my book, but trying to make sense of what was being said to me.

"Yes. It ran under your booth. Across the floor. Came from over there." They pointed to my neighbor's display booth. The one with the cartoon-like figures cut from metal and mounted on wood blocks with springy wire that made them dance like hyperactive jumping jacks when disturbed in any way.

"I just rapped on that shelf, to see the people dance, and this mouse zoomed out. Ran under your tables." This was the husband talking. The wife said, "It was a little one."

I guessed she meant the mouse rather than the rap. By now I was fully present but somewhat skeptical. This was the middle of a shopping mall; the middle of an art Show. Not the right habitat for mice, whatever their size. Besides I'd never encountered mice before in all my years of doing shows, and I'd been in likelier mice country. But this was irrelevant. The fact that I had not seen mice before made no difference. Either there was a mouse or there wasn't, the past didn't count. Still I clung to precedent not really believing what these people were telling me.

"It was a tiny one," she said again.

"It ran under there," he pointed, "But I don't see it now."

"A mouse?" I was starting to believe.

"I just knocked on the shelf and out it ran. Look around, maybe you can see it." The husband again.

He was in front of my pottery display, looking around, but obviously seeing no mouse. From behind the booth I began to scan the orderly clutter of table legs and boxes on my side. No shortage of hiding places. A real rat's nest - I mean mouse's nest.

Actually the view wasn't that bad. There was a lot of stuff there alright but it was arranged fairly neatly. A mouse wouldn't care about "neat", he'd just look for a hiding place, and find plenty.

By now I was beginning to accept the idea that I had company. A neighbor artist had joined the eagle-eyed couple and they were deep in shallow conversation about the mouse and his booth switching dash.

"I wonder where he came from?" my neighbor asked.

"Over there," said the couple.

"I mean, how did he get in the mall?"

"Yeah? Maybe he was already here," the husband put forth tentatively. "Probably got into the booth last might. After hours." He was gaining certainty as he went along.

OK, OK. I've got a mouse. I give up. I accept it. But, dammit, what do I do now? Do I scare it away? Do I ignore it? Do I even care? Should I care?

"How big was it?" I ask. Maybe I'd better find out exactly what I'm dealing with.

"A small one," she says.

"About this big." He's holding his thumb and forefinger about 3-4 inches apart.

"Including the tail?" My brain is in gear finally. "Or just the body?" Factfinding! I'm good at this. I'll deal with the rest later.

Safe now, but what is this place? Move along the wall. Still safe. Oh,oh, the wall ends. Open space, danger. DANGER! Something moving overhead. Run! Run back!

Back to the safe place. Now try the other direction. Slowly...Carefully... Listen. No danger. Move along... The wall ends again. Look up. Nothing moving. Some kind of ceiling up there. Too high for real protection, but better than open sky.

It's bright here too. That's not good. Listen. Look. Sniff. No danger. Quick, around the corner and run along the wall. Seek shelter! Run, run. Another corner. It's dark around this corner. Good! Into the darkness. Run. Feel the way. No danger, good!

It's quieter here. Nice and dark. Move back into the darkness. This is good; dark, quiet, safe.

"There he is!" I'm kind of excited in spite of my attempt to be blasé about the whole matter.

"Where?" The wife looks around.

"That's him," the husband agrees. "Little fellow ain't he?"

I was glad to have glimpsed the intruder. I'm not afraid of mice, of course. Still, I felt better having seen him with my own eyes. Much better, having seen how small he was. Just about the size of a chocolate truffle. A dark chocolate truffle; almost black but tending toward grey rather than chocolate brown. His tail added another two inches to his length but did not change his obvious harmlessness. Clearly nothing to worry about here. Not that I was ever worried of course.

"Where, where?" my neighbor nervously chimed in. "I'm afraid of mice." she added, as she alternately edged forward trying to see the mouse, and shied away for fear of actually seeing him.

By then the mouse had zipped around a box into a new hiding place. She missed the mouse. I kept a visual vigil on the spot where the mouse slipped into one of my pottery boxes, but after awhile I lost interest and mentally rejoined the ongoing conversation.

"...ran into my kitchen one day and I jumped on a chair and screamed." My neighbor was explaining her phobia.

The conversation was drifting around to general mouse stories and speculation about where the mouse came from.

"I wonder if the other craftspeople brought him in. Unknowingly, that is," was my contribution. "Maybe he was in their boxes all the time?"

As we continued to discuss the mouse's possible origins I noticed something odd about my mouse-fearing neighbor.

"What do you mean you're afraid of mice?" I said. "You've got mice all over you." She was wearing a pink sweat shirt with mice gaily cavorting all over it.

"Wha...!" She jumped back, startled and scared. She'd forgotten what she was wearing.

"You've got white mice printed all over your shirt." I said again. Her mouse fear was obviously real.

"Oh yeah." She understood now, and calmed down.

I still think it was a strange shirt for a mouse-phobic person to wear.

This is a good hiding place. Lots of darkness. Lots of nooks and crannies to hide in.

Oh, oh! What was that? Everything moved. Danger? Just one big, brief movement. It's still now. Maybe this isn't safe. Better look around. Listen! Feel! Smell! Listen! All safe again. Good!

Safe, but hungry. Hunger! Hunger! Long time since food. No food here. Need food. Must look for food. Squeeze back out the opening. Run along wall. No food here. Around the corner. Still no food. Run, run.

Gotta find food. Hunger! Need food. FOOD! Maybe over there?! Across the open space. Fear! Danger? Must do it! Need food!!

Run fast. Run faster! Slip, slide. Oh,oh slipping, falling. Feet slipping and sliding: surface too slick. Hurry. Run, slip, run. Made it. Whew! Pant, pant!

No wall here, but nice low ceiling. Pretty good protection. Look for danger. Sniff. Listen. No danger. No food either. Which way now?

Wait a minute. What is that? Food? Yes, food. Food, I smell food! Where is it? Over here? Over there? This way? Yes, this way, up ahead somewhere.

Danger. Open space again. Bright light! Danger? No, don't see danger. Don't hear and danger. Smell food! FOOD! Got to have food. Run, sniff, run. Over this way. Sniff. Here it is. Ah, food, good! Eat, eat, eat. Danger? Bright light! Open space! Look. Listen. EAT!

"There he goes again." I'm pointing to a spot between my pottery boxes and my supply chest.

"There he is. I see him." Says another craftsperson who has joined the discussion group.

"Where, where,' my phobic neighbor chimes in. There is very little apprehension in her voice now. She, like everyone else, is getting used to the idea of a mouse at the fair.

"Nothing to worry about," I say soothingly. "Come around to this side, I'll point straight down to where he is. I put down a cupcake paper with crumbs still on it. He's found it, and eating."

Cautiously, carefully, she drifts over to a better vantage point. Curiosity has won over fear, but it's a temporary victory, reversible at any moment.

Just as carefully, but for a different reason, I begin extending my arm pointing to the mouse.

Eat, eat, eat. Good food. Still in danger. Too much open space! Too much light! Move food? Uff! Push. Ugg! Pull. No, it's too heavy. Better eat it here. EAT! Hurry, hurry.

Danger!! Overhead! Something is moving. Run, run, RUN! Quick, under the low ceiling again. Across the small open space. Along the wall. Run, pant, run. Into the hole; into the hiding place; into the safe place. Back into the corner. Farther back. Listen. Sniff. Listen! Safe now. Rest now. Pant, pant. Not hungry now.

"Oh, he ran away. I guess I scared him with my hand." That was dumb, I scold myself. Mice are probably very sensitive about overhead movement, wary of mice-eating birds.

"I saw him. Oh, he's cute." Fear lost another round in my neighbor. "He's so small...kinda cute."

Cute, yes, but I notice she is not moving in closer. He's gone now anyway so moving in closer wouldn't matter. Still, I can tell from the tone of her voice that the mouse has been reclassified from potential threat to potential pet.

During the rest of the day the mouse was mostly forgotten. He made occasional forays to the cupcake paper. I became accustomed to his limited comings and goings.

The next day I put down more food. Even some cheese chunks this time. I'm pampering him, I think. But when he ventures over to the food he turns his back on the cheese after an exploratory nibble or two.

"Hey, he's not eating the cheese." I'm dumbfounded. "Who ever heard of a mouse that doesn't like cheese?" Another stereotype bites the dust.

"Maybe that Monterey Jack is too bland?" says my neighbor.

"Oh great, a gourmet mouse!"

In spite of his rejection of the cheese I've come to look forward to his scurrying about my booth. I've never had a fair pet before. I'm becoming proprietary: he's my mouse.

Maybe I should name him? 'Mickey'? But is it a him? Perhaps it's a female? 'Minnie'? Or, 'Mini', since it is a very tiny mouse. Perhaps it's a baby, or an adolescent? The show is rather slow and I have plenty of time for such mental meanderings.

Hunger again! Need food. Where was that food? That way, yes! Smell food. Run, run, run. Yes, the food is that way. RUN! Ah food. Good, food. Eat. Here is some different food too. Not as good as the other food. Eat, be alert but eat. Full now. Run. Run to safety. Run, hide, rest.

"How's your mouse?" greets me as I arrive on the third day.

My mouse? And not my mouse. I'm beginning to consider his (never could decide on a name, or a sex) post-fair fate.

"There he goes, heading for the mouse picnic I left him," I say, a little later that day.

"What will you do at the end of the fair?" My no longer quite so mouse phobic neighbor asks.

"I dunno. If I scare him off to some other part of the mall they'll kill him. The Guards or Maintenance or somebody. Can't have mice running around in a place like this."

"Yeah..." she agrees.

"But if he stays in my boxes and I load him in my van he'll die there. I leave my boxes in my van between shows: I don't unload them. No food...or water. I don't want a dead mouse in my van."

"Maybe you could let him out. In a field." her husband says. He has joined her at the fair but has yet to see the mouse. He's trying to be cool about not being part of the mouse-spotting- brigade, but I notice he's always here in a hurry whenever anyone sees the mouse. Not quick enough, so far.

Letting the mouse run free sounds like a good idea to me but I don't think it's the solution.

"My neighborhood is full of cats, including my own," I say, "Besides, I'd probably have to unpack each and every box out on the lawn or somewhere to be sure he got out. Even then the cats would kill him."

What was I going to do?

Capture him, of course! Not in a trap, but in some way that wouldn't hurt or kill him. The show was still slow (no surprise, I'd thought this might be a poor one) and I had plenty of time to plan.

Ah, darkness again. Less danger now. Not so noisy either. No vibrations in the floor. No danger. Hungry again! Go to food. Run across open space, then under ceiling, and now across the big open space. Not as dangerous now that it is darker. Where is that food? Here it is. Eat, eat, eat.

Food not so good now. It is almost gone too. Need to find more food. Better food. Where? Somewhere else. Look for new food! Run, look, listen. Run, run, run. Sniff. Listen. Food? Where is food? Over this way... New food! Run, run...

It's the last day of the fair and I've got a plan. Open a paper bag on it's side, with food in it. Attach a string to the upper side of the bag and when the mouse goes in for the food, yank the string jerking the bag upright. Voila! One bagged mouse. Hopefully uninjured.

I set to work diligently. Nothing like a good plan to focus one's energies. A short while later it's all set. The string loops over some supports so the pulling end is well away from the bag. That seems like a subtle, clever touch to me. I feel success is guaranteed. Now just sit back and wait.

Waiting is hard. Previously I didn't care whether I saw the mouse or not, I wasn't really waiting for him. Now I'm constantly aware that he could show up any time and I must be ready to yank the string.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. I'm bored.. I can't keep this up. Besides there has been no sign of him all day. Better go to Capture Plan B.

The first step is to plug the small holes I've seen him run in and out of so often. Then carefully unpack this box that has seemed to be his headquarters for the last four days.

The casserole comes our first. He's not in there. Next is this stack of bowls. Even he couldn't hide among them, so they can come out as a group. Now, a lid here and a vase there; still no sign of him. No active sign that is; a few of his eliminatory calling cards litter the box bottom.

Carefully I remove piece after piece, paper after paper. Still no mouse. He's scared, and hiding in the farthest dark recess. Thinking of his fear makes me conscious of my own discomfort. He's a small mouse, of course; no real danger, of course; mice don't attack, of course. Do they? Could he be diseased?

Very gingerly I remove the last pots and packing papers. No mouse! Empty! Nothing! Nada! This I wasn't prepared for. I was sure he'd be in this box.

"What happened?" asked my neighbor, who had been watching the operation.

"I dunno. Guess he ran off last night," I ad-libbed. "Somewhere in the mall now I suppose."

"Maybe he's in one of your other boxes."

"I kinda doubt it. I haven't seen him all day. I got tired of waiting to trap him so I figured I'd catch him in his favorite box. Figured he'd have to be in there, but he wasn't."

"Oh.. I hope he doesn't come over my way." The phobia was fighting back now and stood a good chance of winning if the little creature came anywhere near her. But he never showed up again.

The show is over now and all my pots are packed away. If you ever come upon a little mouse in a shopping mall, remember he doesn't like Monterey Jack cheese.


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